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What should I look for in a tobacco pipe?

In recent years, cigarette smoking is on the decline in popularity for a host of reasons. While it’s true that smoking anything is by its very nature at least somewhat unhealthy, alternative forms of smoking that reduce the amount of unhealthy ingredients is on the rise. This includes a major shift from cigarettes to pipe tobacco, a form of tobacco that tends to be purer, freer of particularly nasty additives, and all around less unhealthy. Many non-smokers will also cite that the lingering scent of pipe tobacco on a person is far less unpleasant than that of cigarette smoke, and that the lingering smoke in the air is almost aromatic. Secondhand smoke is still unhealthy, however, so it’s best to not smoke around people if possible.

That said, if you are new to pipe smoking, you may be a little reluctant to ask someone in a tobacco shop about advice. It’s very easy to feel slightly embarrassed when you don’t know a lot about a particular thing as you walk into a store specializing in. This is just natural human instinct. So, how about we take a moment to talk about the various styles of tobacco pipe, what makes them unique compared to each other, and maybe this can give you a head start in deciding what type of pipe might be right for you.

Not all pipes are the same!

First of all, the aesthetic appearance of the pipe isn’t the only thing that differentiates the wide range of tobacco pipes out there. Certain pipes are designed for certain durations of smoking, certain types of tobacco, as well as various designs actually affecting the way the smoke is textured and how it tastes from the lit pipe.

A prime example, if you look at the stereotypical type of pipe used by Sherlock Holmes and most depictions, it has a very large bowl and a curved stem. These pipes are intended for a longer smoking session, or for a less fine-cut, more moist tobacco. These include things like Cavendish tobaccos, a very old, traditional and still tremendously popular British style of pipe tobacco. I personally am rather fond of cherry Cavendish myself. However, the curved stem of this type of pipe serves two purposes, one of which is for balancing and ease of holding the pipe, the other is to give the smoke a longer range to travel, cooling and expanding it, resulting in the smoke being less harsh, as well as thermally cooler.

Straight pipes, a design popular in certain parts of Europe, Asia and most famously the rural areas of the United States, are intended for smoking a dryer, almost cigarette-like tobacco. Corncob pipes are famous examples of the straight pipes, but far from the only ones. These deliver a stronger, somewhat harsher smoke, but some prefer this, especially those transitioning from cigarettes whom are used to a very strong smoking experience.

On a practical level, the straight pipes tend to be harder to keep lit, but are much easier to clean than curved pipes.

Closing thoughts?

If you are transitioning from cigarettes to pipe smoking, it is best to start with a straight pipe, even something as simple as a humble, affordable corncob pipe. Any tobacco shop out there will have a variety of straight pipes of a very affordable variety for you to try, as well as a plethora of different types of pipe tobacco for you to try. It is best to start with something simple, so you can learn what type of pipe and what type of pipe tobacco you prefer. Unlike the old days, nobody is going to particularly judge you by the style of pipe or flavor of tobacco you smoke, as smoking in general has not been a social statement for more than half a century at this point. Experiment, find what you like and happy smoking!

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